Prison Moms: Meet the Kids

Prison Moms: Meet the Kids

"I want Mommy," says 6-year-old Makayla, sitting on the lap of her 15-year-old sister, Brianna. The pair look out the window of a bus on its way to Valley State Prison for Women, where their mother is incarcerated. Makayla wipes tears from her eyes as her sister tries to comfort her.

"You want Mommy?" Brianna asks. "We'll be there in just a few more minutes." Brianna later reveals that talking about their mother makes Makayla emotional because of how deeply she misses her.

She explains that they only see their mother twice a year, because the jail is nearly five hours away. And the sisters are only two of six kids who make this same infrequent trip. Their siblings are Jasmine, 17; Treyshawn, 11 and the only boy; Omani, 9; and Arriana, 8. In this case, Dr. Phil has sponsored a Get on the Bus trip which provides transportation to the prison.

"When I see my sisters cry it hurts me because I know why they're crying," Brianna reveals. "My mom, when she got incarcerated, they were so young, and they really don't know her like I do. I know the pain that they feel. I know what they're going through, and I don't want them to feel like that. So I try not to let them cry."

 

At last they arrive at the prison. Their mother, Angela, lights up when she sees her children's faces through the waiting room door. As the door opens, the girls run into her embrace.

 

"They didn't tell me that you were coming!" she exclaims.

 

"We wanted it to be a surprise," Brianna tells her.

Brianna lives with Arianna and Makayla at the home of their aunt, but with their mother behind bars, Brianna has in many ways become a surrogate mom to her younger sisters.

"Sometimes I do feel like I am a mother figure to them, but then I don't really want to call it, like, a mother figure; I'd rather call it, like, a role model," she says. "I feel responsible for them because my mom isn't here to take care of them, and I am. So, I kind of feel the need to step up just like my mom would want me to do."

Angela senses the burden on her children. "I feel that my incarceration has affected my children by making them more worried, you know, more unsettled than they were when I was home."

"Arianna and Makayla understand a lot now that my mother is in jail and that she isn't going to be coming home soon," Brianna says. "She has to stay long, because the judge said so. Makayla, she used to call it The Time-Out Place."

 

Angela tells her children often that she's learned from her mistakes, that she knows what she did wrong and that she won't break the law again. Brianna hopes she doesn't. "I used to worry about myself going down the same path as my mother," she says, "but as long as you go down your own path and you do the right thing, I won't end up in jail like my mother."

She continues, "Throughout this whole time my mom has been incarcerated, it's been rough on us not being together, not being able to see each other. I want to see all my brothers and sisters again."

Over 100 miles away, in San Diego, Brianna's older sister, 17-year-old Jasmine, struggles with similar issues. While their mother serves her second prison sentence, Jasmine lives with another aunt, and her younger siblings, Treyshawn and Omani, live with their father nearby.

"When I was 10 years old, my mom went to prison for the first time for check fraud, and that's when I went to go live with my dad," Jasmine recounts. "When my mom got out of prison for the first time, I was excited to go back with her because I didn't like staying with my dad. I was excited that my mom had all my brothers and sisters together. It was only a few months later when she was arrested again for writing bad checks." Jasmine fights back her emotions as she continues. "It was hard to see them arrest her,
but at the same time, I was mad at her, because I guess I felt like that's what she gets, because she knew what she was doing. My aunt tried to keep all my brothers and sisters here with us, but it was too much for her, so we all had to split up."

"I was 14 years old when my mom got arrested and I just had to take on the mom role," Jasmine continues. "With her gone in prison " in and out " I did have to grow up faster than a normal 13- or 14-year-old would. I'm angry at her because she kind of messed up all of our lives."

Jasmine isn't the only sibling affected by Angela's absence.

"I was 9 years old when Mom left," says 11-year-old Treyshawn. "It's been a long time since I've seen my mom."

Omani adds, "I think the thing I miss most about my mom is having mommy-and-daughter time."

Jasmine feels alienated from the rest of the family. "Now, I don't talk to my brothers and sisters a lot at all," she says. "It's hard to talk to my brothers and sisters. If I worry myself about them it's just going to drive me crazy because there's nothing I can do. It's out of my control. And that's why I don't keep in touch as much as I should. I haven't seen the rest of my brothers and sisters since my 16th birthday."

Jasmine reunites with Treyshawn and Omani before venturing to the prison. They embrace warmly and Jasmine remarks at how much her siblings have grown.

"Seeing Jasmine was exciting," says Treyshawn, "because I hadn't seen her in a long time. I missed her a lot. I wish she could live with me."


Jasmine hasn't seen her mother in a year-and-a-half. "I could see my mom," she says, "but I choose not to. I still have no idea when my mom's getting out. I'm just anxious to see if she's going to fall in her same footsteps. She's made so many promises to us, saying that she's going to change, but I just feel that she's going to do the same thing all over again. Then, I just don't want her to keep hurting my brothers and sisters." She continues, tearfully, "I've had dreams of her dying.
I'm scared that something's going to happen to her in jail. I'm scared that someone's going to hurt her. I'm scared for her safety."

Treyshawn expresses no such ambivalence. "If I could wish for anything in the world," he says, "I'd wish for my mom to come home."

Nine-year-old Omani says, "I don't understand why my mom isn't with me."

Brianna, Arianna and Makayla join Dr. Phil in his studio.

Dr. Phil asks Brianna about her dual role of sister and mom to her younger siblings. "Is that tough?"

"Yeah, at first it kind of was," she says, "trying to balance school and then trying to have a personal life myself, with my friends and stuff."

"You've been split up from your other siblings, right?" asks Dr. Phil. "What's that been like, not being able to see them?"


"It's been kind of hard," she says. "We call them sometimes on, like, their birthdays and holidays and stuff, and talking to them on the phone is good, but I want to see them in person."

Dr. Phil tells her, "I hate that they're out of your life and that your mother is too, but you know what? Those three are here today, and they've come to see you. All right?
Can we have them?"

Jasmine, Treyshawn and Omani join their sisters on stage. They hug joyfully, share broad smiles and remark at how each other has grown.

Dr. Phil notes what a good-looking family they make. "We need to keep you all in Hollywood and have a TV show right here, is what we need to do," he says.

They josh about how Treyshawn gets by as the only boy in a family of girls before Dr. Phil turns more seriously to Jasmine.

"You have not seen your mom since she went to prison, right?" he asks her. "You made the decision that you weren't going to see her.


"Yeah, I did," Jasmine replies.

"Have you been kind of nervous about seeing her?" asks Dr. Phil. When Jasmine nods in response, he asks, "What scares you about it?"

"How it's going to be," she says. "I haven't seen her in so long, so I don't know what to expect."

"I mean, you've got to be angry with her," says Dr. Phil.

"I am," she confirms. "You know, if they all come and I'm not there, she's going to be hurt. But at the same time, I'm angry with her and all the stuff she's done."


 

Dr. Phil asks Jasmine, "Are you going to tell her the truth when you see her?"

"I'm not sure," she says. "I don't know how it's going to be to talk to her."

"We'll play it by ear," says Dr. Phil, "but I want to tell you that you are obviously an intelligent and responsible young woman, the way you're leading your life, the things that you're doing, the role model that you're being. And you're certainly entitled to say what you want to say to your mother. You don't have to say anything, but just know that if you feel the need to do that, then do it. " Turning to Brianna, he asks, "Don't you think she should be straight up with her?"

 

"Everybody should just be straight up with her," she says. "And hopefully everybody just telling her the way they feel will be a wake-up call for her."

 

"Yeah, absolutely," says Dr. Phil. "Omani, are you looking forward to seeing your mom?"

 

"Yeah," she says meekly.

 

"Yeah?" asks Dr. Phil. "How come?"


"Because I really love her," she says.

 

Treyshawn tells Dr. Phil that he is both looking forward to and nervous about seeing his mother.

 

"Well, it will work out," Dr. Phil reassures him. "I'll be there with you, OK? So, we'll do this together. There will be two boys in this mix."

 

Treyshawn agrees.